Saturday, October 8, 2011

Me and My Puritan Streak

I have a very pronounced Puritan streak. Talking about “taboo” subjects like sex makes me uncomfortable, as do people who air their personal issues in public. Watching Jerry Springer or any of his imitators makes me blush and get so fidgety I have to turn it off.
I don’t like garish clothing (most of my wardrobe is in black and grays and blues) and I won’t wear a tie unless it’s a solid color—no hula girls or palm trees for me, thanks. When I see a guy walking around without a shirt on, even if he’s buff and can pull it off, I want desperately to tell him to get some damn clothes on, fer Christ’s. People who feel the need to be the center of attention all the time baffle me.
Have a sense of propriety, please, I’m begging you. Before I die of embarrassment.
Yes, deep in the core of this extremely liberal exterior is a stitched-up Puritan.
I don’t know where it came from. Maybe the Southern Baptist faith I experienced growing up? Maybe from my step-dad, who frowned upon any display of genuine emotion? I don’t know. But it’s there and I can’t pretend otherwise.
This is doubly odd considering the nature of what I write, and of what I like to read.
My stories and novels tend to be intensely personal, and they don’t shy away from sex, religion, or any other taboo subject. The characters are often bombastic and colorful. And once I start into a subject through a story, I believe strongly in not flinching, in taking the truth of the matter as far as possible, often into extremely uncomfortably emotional places.
I’m come to realize in the last couple years that’s the only way I have of talking about that stuff. By writing it down, putting it all into the head of a fictional character, I’m able to address it. And I recognize it in other people’s work as well. The unwavering commitment to telling the hardest emotional truths is a beautiful characteristic that our best writers share.
That’s all I got on that subject. Now put a shirt on, will you, please?


  1. Great post. You're certainly not alone.

    Your characters don't shy away but neither do your stories seem to use 'taboo subjects' for mere sensation or in any kind of cynical way. Whatever comes, it comes from the story and not the other way 'round. As it should be.

  2. I agree! There's only so much ass-crack and muffin-top I can look at in a day...

  3. Facing what you find uncomfortable can be rich vein to mine, I think. Helps to have an built-in geiger counter to tell you when you're getting near the core of things.


  4. Thought-provoking post. My own stuff gets me in my own hot water sometimes -- self-recrimination, why are you writing this stuff, isn't this counseling session material, what would Mom say, etc. Thoughts of pseudonyms to protect the offspring (filed under Dreams of Finally Getting Published Regularly You Wish). You know what they say: It's always the quiet ones...
    But less jokily: When do you know you've gone too far? When have you crossed a line from storytelling into self-abasing catharsis? Am always tantalized by the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's wife being so horrified by the first draft of "Dr. Jekyll..." that Stevenson burned it. (Is that apocryphal, by the wsy? I should look it up.) Even if not true the idea of horrifying one's loved ones with one's writings is, to me, scary. Nadine Gordimer once said "Write as if everyone you know is dead." Yikes.